Forget bikes; driverless vehicles are our saviour

I’ve been saying this for years and now someone else has piped up and provided a good article on why driverless technology will save us from loopy rail projects and stupid cycleways.

Ian Apperly writes at NBR:

Debate over the past two years has argued cycleways are either a good solution to traffic woes or an over-hyped solution put forward by self-interested industry groups and a left-leaning local politics environment.

The reality is that cycleways are going to vanish as is a lot of industry, as autonomous vehicles take over.

In 2010, Uber launched. It connected drivers with riders. Over the past few years Uber has been more commonly thought of as a taxi service but it is not. It’s a lot better and a lot safer.

In 2015, nearly half of all “taxi” rides in the US were Uber-driven. Uber is valued at about $50 billion, half the value of all the global taxi companies.

That new model is already “disrupting” and is set to “super-disrupt” as autonomous vehicles appear.

It’s long been known Google has a stake in Uber and that the end goal of Uber is to go driverless.

In July 2015, Uber preordered 500,000 vehicles from Tesla.

Who wants to sweat and puff to get to work?

Disruption is already here and likely to escalate, killing off moribund industries. By the time they realise and start lobbying government their businesses will have been superseded.

An autonomous vehicle, also known as a driverless car, self-driving car or robotic car, is an automated or autonomous vehicle capable of fulfilling the main transportation capabilities of a traditional car. As an autonomous vehicle, it is capable of sensing its environment and navigating without human input.

Autonomous vehicles sense their surroundings with such techniques as radar, lidar (light detection and ranging), GPS and computer vision. Advanced control systems interpret sensory information to identify appropriate navigation paths as well as obstacles and relevant signage.

By definition, autonomous vehicles are capable of updating their maps based on sensory input, allowing the vehicles to keep track of their position even when conditions change or when they enter uncharted environments .That’s according to Disruption: Emerging Technologies and the Future of Work (Kindle Edition) by Victor del Rosal.

 Uber is already killing traditional taxi companies off and New Zealand has the same complaints: Uber is not safe and taxis are better regulated and so on.

Whenever an Uber driver commits a crime, mainstream media is all over it because of its clickbait value.

But Uber’s model and the world’s move to autonomous vehicles are going to help solve some interesting problems.

About 94% of a car’s average life is spent parked. Hence the need in cities for car parks and in urban settings for garaging. There is the classic ICT capacity issue of the early 2000s, all these servers (cars) with a single application on each (a driver). Autonomous vehicles under an Uber model effectively virtualise cars.

“Sure,” I hear you say “but so do taxis.” Yep. You are bang on. But taxis have some problems that Uber solves and that autonomous vehicles nuke.

First, taxis are expensive. That’s because of the massive industry that has built up around the service. In New York, the cost of buying a taxi used to be near $US1.1 million. In New Zealand it used to be about $140,000. Post Uber, the cost of a taxi medallion in New York is closer to $600,000 and in New Zealand I hear anecdotally it has gone down to $110,000 and under. Taxis are doomed.

Taxi and Uber drivers are doomed as well. Approximately 75% of the cost of a cab, or Uber, is the driver. So translate that and a standard Uber $20 fare today becomes $5 with an autonomous vehicle.

Don’t think that will happen? Well, that is precisely what happened in media with online ads. The cost of ads online is cents in the dollar compared with charges for print ads, and the ad revenues have slumped offline as well. What has happened to media is going to happen to the taxi, automotive and transport industries.

Autonomous cars reduce the traffic count significantly. There is no longer a need to spend on more roading infrastructure other than to perhaps alter it in spots to make it easier for driverless cars to navigate. Life gets a lot easier for the cyclist.

Autonomous cars are programmed to share the road and have a lot more sensors than two human eyes. Where an aggressive human driver will provide danger to a cyclist or just make mistakes (cyclists are very hard to see), an autonomous car will not.

Futurist Zack Kanter cites a Columbia University study, which suggests that, with a fleet of only 9000 autonomous cars, Uber could replace every taxi cab in New York City. Passengers would wait an average of 36 seconds for a ride costing around 50USc a mile.

Autonomous cars will disrupt other industries as well, that like taxis, will strongly resist the move to that platform. Here are some examples:

  • Drivers are finished. From taxis to private cars, then eventually buses, trucks, trains, ships, and planes.
  • Parking is a multi-billion dollar industry. Many local governments in the western world have become addicted to the revenue stream it provides.
  • Congestion charging revenue will drop significantly.
  • Private toll road revenue take will also drop.
  • Billions of dollars of automotive insurance will plunge again as will the associated financing market and vehicle aftermarket.
  • The corner mechanic will disappear.
  • Government revenues will plunge. Registering cars, associated taxes, and other sources of income related to cars will fall.
  • Car manufacturers will lose revenue.
  • Public transport providers will go broke if they can’t adapt.

And watch the shit fight that will ensue. Buggy whip manufacturers didn’t have Twitter and Facebook to express outrage.

Globally, this is a shift in revenue of trillions of dollars and change to businesses that have been around for a century. It can be guaranteed that those groups are going to lobby governments hard to retain that business.

Autonomous cars will be vilified and their creators demonised.

For the end user, it is nirvana: cheap travel costs, even more affordable if he or she chooses to ride share, whenever they need it. Users can do whatever they wish in the car on the way to and from work within reason.

They can still retain that personal bubble they love so much. People can be sure they are having a lot less of an impact on the planet than if they owned and drove their personal car. All the hassle of owning a car is gone.

Unless industries start to adapt now, they will complain they are bleeding and then die. This is inevitable.

The industry that does not change will find themselves in the same place that global ICT companies did when the cloud started to dominate their industry.

You can choose to be a Microsoft or you can decide to be an IBM. In other words, you can choose to radically reinvent yourself or you can choose to drown slowly.

There will be a lot of gurgling sounds.

There is little point investing in cycleways when they will become redundant in the next decade. The government needs to be setting policy for this now, given the time it takes to set policy is probably about the same as the first cars arriving.

It’s going to happen, regardless, and like Uber, once the cat is out of the bag all you can do is follow. After all, how do you arrest an autonomous car?

One that always follows the road rules.

A good article from Ian Apperly.

 – NBR


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  • RightofSingapore

    No way am I trusting my commute to some computer and ALGORErithms. I AM the stability control, I AM the adaptive cruise control, I AM the parking sensors. Driving is not just a way of getting from A to B, it is a leisure activity, something to be enjoyed, not surrendered.

    • Dan

      A lot of us are like minded – we enjoy driving. However, IMO those of us who like driving hate being driven, where the phanton breake pedal gest pushed through the floor every minute. But where the driverless technology works is that there is noone to hate pre se. And even though I like driving and hate being driven, if I am in a strange place or on vacation, driverless tech for me would be great.

  • XCIA

    In peak hour traffic it can take +/-2 hours from Pokeno to Auckland. By the time the AC cars are available in Auckland, driving times will have probably doubled, so I hope they make provision for sleeping facilities.

    • Anthony

      53km from Auckland to Pokeno. If it takes 2hours thats an average of 26.5km/hr. It‘d be faster if everyone rode bicycles.

      • XCIA

        If I were to travel from Torbay to Otahuhu in peak traffic it would also take +/-2 hours. As it is I leave home at 05:00 and it takes +/- 35 minutes.

      • Davydz

        Just been to Ho chi minh – 11 million people and 6 million motor cycles.
        This is the reality of what you would see – not more bicycles

  • Mick Ie

    When they finally arrive in NZ, it should be made mandatory for some drivers to use driverless cars. Especially out on the open road where they should be driving at 100kph.

    • The only way driverless cars will work is if all cars are driverless.

      • one for the road

        Or if they designate lanes for “trains” of driverless cars

  • “The reality is that cycleways are going to vanish as is a lot of industry, as autonomous vehicles take over.”

    What? No they won’t. As his first statement says “Debate over the past two years has argued cycleways are either a good solution to traffic woes or an over-hyped solution put forward by self-interested industry groups and a left-leaning local politics environment.”

    Precisely. And since they were never really built for commuters but for those too miserable to buy a gym membership they will not disappear.

    The idea that in a city like Auckland there are crowds of commuters looking to cycle up hill and down dale is moronic but it is vociferously pushed by the self interested lobby groups like Barbara Cuthbertson and the morons of cycle action that want the white elephant skypath and are thrilled that the rest of the country will pay for their personal velodrome.

    They aren’t going anywhere except deeper into everyone elses pockets.

    • Platinum Fox

      The only place I see “those too miserable to buy a gym membership” riding their bikes is on the roads. They do not use the cycleways and they definitely do not use the shared pedestrian/cycleways which used to be called footpaths (such as on Quay Street/Tamaki Drive.
      I almost never see a cyclist using the cycleway on Beach Road and in the 18 months or so since that cycleway was built I’ve only once seen a cyclist stop and wait for the diagonal crossing light at Te Taou Crescent towards the [New] Station Hotel in order that he could proceed onto the Grafton Gully cycleway.

  • OneTrack

    “is an automated or autonomous vehicle capable of fulfilling the main transportation capabilities of a traditional car.”

    So they will have a towing weight of 2000kg then? But the real question is, will they be able to back down the ramp on their own.